The refugee crisis is the most serious the UN has encountered
Leaders’ summit on refugees - Speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic - New York, 20 September 2016
I want to begin by thanking President Obama for taking this initiative with the two co-chairs organizing this summit, which comes after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s meeting.
SYRIA CRISIS/IMPACT ON JORDAN, LEBANON AND TURKEY
The refugee crisis is the most serious crisis the United Nations has encountered since it was created. There have been other difficult times over the past 70 years. But never have there been so many refugees in so many parts of the world. We’ve sometimes had to respond to a conflict, a tragedy, climate disruption or famine. But in this case everything has combined to make the refugee crisis a global crisis. What’s more, no continent is spared this issue. We’ve talked a great deal about Europe, because Europeans talk a great deal about Europe and their continent. But actually the refugee crisis firstly affects the Middle East and Africa, not to forget Asia. So our first duty is to put in place multilateral aid and, for each of our countries, bilateral aid for the regions and nations contributing the most to taking in refugees.
Firstly, in the Middle East, three countries are suffering the impact of the war in Syria and Iraq: Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. And these countries have been taking in several million refugees for several years, with one fear, going beyond the hospitality the refugees have been shown: are the refugees going to stay? Or are they at some point – and probably the sooner the better in their case – going to return to their own country?
Yet when a war drags on, when a crisis endures and refugees are in a country for three or four years, it’s both a burden and a hardship for those countries, which have to take daily decisions to ensure that the [refugee] population receives food and also the essential services, with the potential domestic tensions. So France believes it should increase its aid to refugees, and begin by stepping up our contributions to the United Nations agencies by €100 million. For the period 2016-2018, aside from what we’re doing multilaterally, we’re going to give donations, particularly to Lebanon with, among other things, €50 million going solely to providing refugee children with an education. In Jordan, the French Development Agency is going to loan nearly €1 billion so we can supply a certain amount of equipment to be used for refugees, but also for Jordan to ensure its own development and with the idea of getting refugees into work, because they too are asking to be recognized as workers. And with Turkey, in a European framework we’re also providing support which is essential if we want the refugees to remain where they are.
We’ve talked a great deal about the Middle East, but Africa, too, is chief among those concerned – and has been for a long time – by the issue of displaced people and refugees fleeing their country because of war, conflict and – let’s be honest – a number of regimes; but also because this is about hope for a better future in Europe. And the crisis in Libya, the chaos which has taken hold there inevitably encourages people to move to Europe.
I want to emphasize the critical situation in the Lake Chad region, where, once again, terrorism – the terrorism carried out by Boko Haram – has created 2.5 million displaced people, 200,000 refugees, and food insecurity for five million people including 300,000 children. There too, the urgent thing is to open health centres, guarantee water points and ensure education programmes can be organized. There too, France will swiftly establish a new financing instrument through the French Development Agency, to work for the development of Lake Chad.
And there’s also what we must do – and these are commitments made by many countries represented here – to take in refugees ourselves. That’s what France is doing under the right of asylum. Last year 20,000 people obtained refugee status, and 10,000 Syrians have been taken in since the beginning of the crisis.
In the European framework – and this was the subject of a difficult discussion, as everyone knows – we committed ourselves to taking in 30,000 refugees arriving from Greece, Italy and Turkey by December 2017, and we’ll continue the resettlement programmes we’ve been implementing with the UNHCR in Lebanon and Jordan. This resettlement effort is, in my view, a good move and a good example of what it’s possible to do. Since we’re sure of the people we’re taking in, we can check their history, find out the origins of their dramatic circumstances and ensure in advance that they can have training and mentoring and be taken in under good conditions in our own countries.
But at the same time as having to fulfil our humanitarian duty and ensure that the right of asylum prevails, we must also control our borders. It would be paying lip service and even encouraging an illusion to suggest we can take in, constantly take in not only refugees – who sometimes have no other option but to come to us – but also migrants. We must do everything to ensure that the borders are controlled and that those tempted by migration can stay in their own countries.
But for me to say this means we can resolve the crises which have sparked these displacements. I won’t go back over Syria here, over what’s happening in Syria or also in the Lake Chad region. Combating terrorism is ultimately the first requirement we must have if we want to resolve the refugee issue.
But we must also ensure development. There too, if we want to avoid refugees in future, we must ensure development and growth in the poorest and most vulnerable countries. And France is so committed to the climate issue not simply because the planet and its future are at stake, and not simply because [global] warming would cause a certain amount of damage, including in the countries I’m representing here. It’s because one of the main causes of displacement, migration and refugees is the climate. And that’s why I’m calling once again for the Paris Agreement to be ratified as soon as possible.
Likewise, if we want migration to be brought under control, we must devote more investment to Africa. And this was the purpose of the appeal I issued for a development plan in Africa, and particularly for renewable energy. That’s what we also did this afternoon, to harness all our strength and ensure that the commitments made in Paris to give all Africans access to electricity will finally become reality. The COP President, Ségolène Royal, has been playing an active role to ensure we can develop all these projects.
There you are, ladies and gentlemen: it’s not simply about who will take their share of the burden, who will agree to share out refugees throughout the coming years, it’s about organizing a genuine policy to combat the very causes of population movements, displacements. It’s about resolving crises and ensuring development. It’s quite simply about not being passive but taking action.